On a lovely sunny Sunday we bundled bodkins, snippers, irons and sticks into our bags and set off to the beautiful Bishop’s Wood, located just behind Caswell Bay on the stunning Gower coastline. With the intoxicating smell of thousands of wild garlic and their delicate white flowers mixed with swathes of bright bluebells nestled under towering trees, it truly was a sight and smell to behold as we approached the log circle deep in the heart of the wood.
Eight intrepid weavers looked excitedly on as we explained and demonstrated the age old methods of making a small, round stake and strand basket before they set to work on their own mystical first basket journey.
In fairness a few had already begun their journey so were up and running quite swiftly, so we challenged those with different weaves and the prospect of putting a handle on if they shifted a bit.
The complete beginners were taken through the process slowly and gently, nurturing their first grasp of the willow sticks, encouraging them to work with the curve, wiping brows as they puffed through pairing, challenging them to push those side stakes in a bit further, watching until they were well and truly relaxed with waling until their beautiful baskets started to emerge.
The day flew by as the baskets flew up and before we knew it, it was border time. Using buff outside on a warm day with a slight breeze on the air was always going to be a challenge and despite copious amounts of spraying and dampening down there was no alternative than to take the baskets up to the well and give them a 10 minute dunk to be workable. What a joy that turned out to be, we got to see the fantastic roundhouse built by landowner Dai, complete with outdoor kitchen and cob oven plus his fantastic willow chairs, while our basket babies were baptised in the well’s trough, magical.
Borders complete and handles for a few, it was so lovely to see beaming faces clutching new born baskets, a wonderful end to a perfect day of willowing in the woods.
Vale Adult Learners took on the Gypsy Basket challenge last month and after a fair amount of sighing, the odd curse or two and cries of please no more packing, beautiful shaped baskets unfolded.
Welsh Shoppers round two
The second day of the welsh shopper course took place last month. It was a pretty cold day and once again we were all huddled around the fire at the Heritage Coast Centre. With hoops, handles and ribs all dried out it was a day of weaving the basket. It’s quite a tricky basket if you keep the traditional weave going and try and shape the basket at the same time. Also helps if you’re told how to start the basket off properly in the first place, I blame brain freeze…
The Cyntell is the traditional Welsh framed farm basket which was used for many agricultural purposes. Les Llewellyn, who was himself taught by the late DJ Davies, has taught several members of our group the method of making these baskets, we are now confident that our heritage will not be lost!
The frame for the Cyntell is made from very stout hazel or willow which is harvested in the winter months and wrapped round a circular forma – made from MDF or an old bicycle wheel – and left for several months to dry naturally. The baskets range between 18 and 22 inches in diameter and were originally designed to fit into each other for storage when the baskets were not being used. The size of the basket is determined by the diameter of the hoop. The Cyntell basket also has ribs which are shaved from willow and also dried around formas. Les has provided us with a set of formas which are exactly the dimensions which DJ Davies originally used. The ribs are made by splitting very stout willow in half using a knife or two thumbs. The ribs are then shaped by shaving the sharp edges off to form an oval which will not skin the weaving willow as it passes over the ribs. The ideal shape is an almond ‘eye’ shape with no sharp edges. It takes a lot of practice to achieve this!
Once the hoop has dried it is joined by cutting two slypes that fit snugly together and then wood glue is used to ensure a really strong frame. 4 ribs are then attached to the hoop with 4ft willow which is firstly criss crossed and then simply woven in and out. The willow is always joined in with butt first – the butt resting along the rib which is closest to the hoop. It is very important that the butts are trimmed neatly and in line with the rib. New ribs are added in as soon as a pocket has been formed by the weaving.
Les is a fantastic teacher and so generous with his help. We have arranged a course for budding Cyntell makers – this consists of one day in March making frames (19th) and the second day, in September (17th) weaving the Cyntell. There is one place left on this course – if you would like to attend please contact us asap by e-mail and return the booking form found at http://www.outtolearnwillow.co.uk/howtobookacourse.html